Apr 3, 2013

Neufchatel & Cream Cheese - What's the diff?

They're always right next to each other at the store, in nearly identical packaging: cream cheese and Neufchâtel. I've always gotten cream cheese, more out of habit than anything else. But the other day I realized that I don't really know what Neufchâtel is.

I found, at the origin of this comparative study, what original Neufchâtel actually is: a French cheese dating back to the 6th century, named after a town of the same name, in Normandy. Some argue that Neufchâtel is the oldest known cheese in France, and its make process remains quite similar to the original methods of production.

Cheese lore tells of a cheesemaker who, in an effort to replicate the cheese in America, ended up with a result more similar to cream cheese than to Neufchâtel. While the French version uses only milk, the American one uses milk and cream. It is this American incarnation that I've always wondered about at the store, in that 8-ounce, rectangular block, and it indeed tastes much more like cream cheese than the French cheese that inspired its creation. Another point to note: Neufchâtel in France is made with raw milk, while Neufchâtel in America gets pasteurized.

On paper, the main distinction between the two cheeses is their fat content: While cream cheese by law must contain at least 33% milk fat and not more than 55% moisture, American Neufchâtel weighs in with about 23% milk fat and slightly higher moisture content.*

Flavor-wise, Neufchâtel isn't too different from cream cheese. Both are dense, milky, slightly tangy, and spreadable. We all know the flavor of cream cheese quite well; Neufchâtel is just ever-so-slightly less rich tasting.

Mystery solved.

* Source: The New Food Lover's Companion.

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